My experience as an NIHR School for Primary Care Research intern: reflections from an anthropology student

Scarlett Whitford Webb



by Scarlett Whitford Webb, Anthropology Student, University of Bristol

As a student usually peering at fossils of primordial apes, I was surprised to receive an email advertising two paid summer internships in primary care research. The email emphasised that both internships were accepting of students from a variety of disciplines (including geography, biology, sociology, and social policy) in addition to medicine. Experience in qualitative research was required for both projects, but as I (like many others), was already carrying out research for my dissertation, the internship felt tailor-made for a third-year anthropologist wishing to step into the medical world. After reading the email, I hastily applied to one of the projects. A few weeks later, I was interviewed and hired by my project supervisor. After the interview, I learned that 24 students applied for the project, and that seven were shortlisted for interview.

My involvement in the TAP CARE GP study

During my internship, I conducted an analysis of healthcare policies for the TAP CARE GP study, led by Dr Natalia Lewis at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Academic Primary Care (CAPC). The study aims to assess UK primary care readiness to provide trauma-informed care. A trending topic on social media, ‘trauma’ is referred to as the lasting effects of a threatening event. Experiencing trauma can impact an individual’s ability to feel safe or maintain relationships. Trauma is a key concern for primary healthcare due to the universal prevalence of violence and its health and social consequences for patients and staff.

Trauma-informed approaches were developed to prevent re-traumatisation in healthcare services. At the moment, many UK policies recommend implementing trauma-informed approaches in healthcare organisations. The aim of my internship was to determine whether healthcare policies in the UK act as barriers or facilitators for implementing a trauma-informed approach in general practice.

My experience as an intern at CAPC

My experience as an intern at CAPC was very positive. When attending research group meetings, I was treated kindly and made to feel valued. Staff were more than happy to explain the trajectory of their projects, and the trials and tribulations of carrying out research. The internship itself was made flexible to suit my needs (so that I could still attend my part-time job) and as long as I completed the actions set by my supervisor, I could adapt my working hours and work where I wished.

Conducting the policy analysis was a challenging but rewarding process. I was provided with policies to read by my supervisor, which I subsequently screened and highlighted for themes. These themes were then compared to an existing checklist of trauma-informed practice to determine where gaps in UK policy lie. As part of the internship programme, the SPCR offers interns the chance to present their project and it’s expected outcomes in a PPI (patient and public involvement) meeting. Although public-speaking and answering questions on the spot can be nerve-wracking, the three PPI representatives were very considerate and had unique perspectives on the study. Overall, I believe that this internship strengthened my research skills – which will be highly valuable to my future career in medical anthropology. I also plan to re-work my internship report into a conference abstract.

Top tips for future interns

If I were speaking to a future SPCR intern, I would urge them to do three things. First, ask lots of questions. Your supervisor and their research team will be eager to answer them, and you will gain a broader understanding of the project you are working on. Second, maintain contact with your supervisor. Do not be afraid to set-up meetings or email them with questions and progress updates. If you are planning on conducting research in the future, their recommendation will be a valuable one. Third, do not worry about making mistakes. The aim of these internships is to strengthen your research skills as well as contributing to a project. Learning about a new field and overcoming setbacks is what internships are for!

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